From the Creeks to the Palace

How Goodluck Ebele Jonathan rose from obscurity to the most coveted political office in Africa's most populous nation
September 22, 2017 Updated: October 10, 2017

Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan was born on the 20th day of November 1957 in the little water-locked town of Otuoke in the Ogbia Local Government Area of present day Bayelsa State, South-South, Nigeria. His parents Mr. Lawrence and Mrs. Eunice Jonathan were from the minority Ijaw tribe and earned a living by engaging in canoe making, subsistence farming, and small-scale fishing and thus hadn’t the privilege of adequate financial resources.

However, by a measure of grit on his parents’ part, a combination of academic willingness, plus strokes of good fortune on the young Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s part, he was able to attend school and successfully completed his primary education at St. Michael’s Primary School in Oloibiri and his secondary education at Mater Dei High School in Imiringi; where in 1975 he sat for and passed the West African Examinations Council’s O’ level examinations with flying colours. Much later, in several of his political campaign speeches leading up to the 2011 Presidential elections in Nigeria, Mr. Jonathan would recount the experiences of those days where he had to trek to and from school without any shoes because his parents’ meager earnings couldn’t support the “luxury” of a decent pair of footwear.

Upon completing his secondary school education, Mr. Jonathan worked briefly as a preventive officer with the Department of Customs and Excise before securing admission into the University of Port Harcourt in 1977 to study zoology. He subsequently graduated in 1981 with Second Class Honors (Upper division). Before his forays into the world of politics, Goodluck Jonathan worked briefly as a classroom teacher before rising to the position of Science Inspector of Education. In 1983, Mr. Jonathan left mainstream civil service to work as a lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences of the Rivers State College of Education. Mr. Jonathan would later go on to bag a Master’s degree in Hydro-Biology and Fisheries Biology and a Doctorate Degree in zoology from the University of Port Harcourt in 1985 and 1995 respectively. Dr. Jonathan also served as an Assistant Director of Ecology under the Directorate of Environmental Protection and Pollution controls of the Oil Minerals Producing Areas Development Commission.

Following the demise of General Sani Abacha and Nigeria’s imminent return to civilian rule in 1998, Mr. Jonathan voluntarily left his administrative position to join the People’s Democratic Party where he emerged as running mate to Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. The duo would later emerge victorious at the 1999 governorship polls. However, following the impeachment of Governor Alamieyeseigha for money laundering and other corrupt practices, Goodluck Jonathan, who was serving as Deputy to Chief Alamieyeseigha was on the 9th day of December 2005, sworn in as substantive Governor of Bayelsa state; a position he held till the expiration of his tenure in 2007.

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s meteoric rise in the political realms continued as he was picked as a running mate to the late President Umaru Musa Yar Adua for the 2007 Presidential elections under the Platform of the People’s Democratic Party. The pair went on to secure an overwhelming victory at the polls and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the Vice President of Africa’s most populous country. Following severe health challenges to President Year Adua which necessitated medical treatment in faraway Saudi Arabia, Dr. Jonathan was on the 9th day of February 2010 sworn in as Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and later as substantive President on the 5th of May 2010 following the unfortunate demise of President Umaru Yar Adua from Pericarditis.

Dr. Jonathan would go on to handpick Architect Namadi Sambo, the then Governor of Kaduna State as his Vice President and the pair would go on to record a landslide victory at the 2011 Presidential elections. Dr. Jonathan’s tenure as Nigeria’s President came to an end on the 25th of March 2015 when he lost at the Presidential polls to General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress whom he subsequently handed over power to on the 29th day of May 2015.

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan’s story is one of human triumph in the face of grave challenges. His astronomical rise from a poor boy with no shoes in a tiny village in Nigeria’s oil-rich South-South region, to the assumption of great National and International import is testament to the gains of hard work and perseverance. Dr. Jonathan’s remarkable story continues to inspire myself and millions of young people all over the globe. Indeed, we can achieve anything if we truly set our hearts to it.

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